By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
“Hand In Hand” (2016), a six minute and fifty second short from producer-director Haley McHatton and writer Kris Salvi, is definitive proof of the high-level of dramatic tension that can still be derived from a classic thriller set-up. This design is that of an unhinged man, Mike (in an unflinching and captivating portrayal from Justin Thibault). The account finds him kidnapping his former lover, Anthony (in a gripping and ever-watchable enactment from Salvi), in a jealous rage. After doing so, Mike takes Anthony out into the most abandoned regions of the nearby woods. With a gun pointed at Mike’s head, Anthony commands him to dig his own grave. Such morphs into a fascinating, argumentative speech between the duo. This inevitably unveils pent-up emotions. With these once concealed sentiments also comes a flurry of secrets and suspicions. All of which are rivetingly administered to the audience. This is in a manner that is as cryptic as it is nail-biting. In this discourse, Anthony sees signs of potential weakness in Mike. Anthony senses this feebleness as a chance to take the upper-hand. In so doing, Anthony may have a potential chance to get out of the situation. This is with his life intact.
Such twisty, expository banter forms the pushing force of the chronicle. Credibly and powerfully issued, this item proves to be one of the most suspenseful and enthralling components in its cinematic catalogue. It also showcases how well-delivered lines, which balance unforced character development and gradually tease motivations, can be ruthlessly engaging. This is far more so than the splashy, big budget special effects and overblown action sequences that may be incorporated in a lesser effort of this ilk as a substitute for craftsmanship. A splendidly piqued attribute such as this adds an accruing element of surprise to what could’ve easily been an all too straightforward narrative. Such arrives via Salvi’s gritty, meticulously manufactured and tautly paced script. It is also a courtesy of McHatton’s masterful, wisely uncluttered and focused handling of the material.
These potent articles have an augmented luster. This is when mixed with Mitch Severt’s spectacular cinematography. Severt exposes a bravura capacity to catch the multitude of shades, primarily the dark reds and gentle yellows illuminated from the fallen leaves glimpsed in the backdrop of the exertion. Such transpires in an undeniably immersive, eye-catching and gorgeous fashion. Other natural structures casually spied in the area fare just as wonderfully. For instance, the endless rows of sinewy trees, which also can be viewed as a perfect symbol of the general seclusion of the location, visibly looming behind Mike and Anthony at most moments. Yet, Severt’s work, as beautiful as it is, never defies the no-nonsense, white knuckle atmosphere which is unwaveringly orchestrated throughout the fabrication. Such is certainly a feat worthy of praise. The piece is further enhanced by the proficient and sharp editing from the team of Steve Polakiewicz, Carlo Barbieri and McHatton. Kyle Joyce’s audio is herculean. Jeremy Arruda’s brilliant, Ennio Morricone-esque piano driven score, which sweepingly echoes through the stylish and splendidly erected concluding acknowledgments, splendidly exhibits the technical prowess at hand.
Likewise, the plot, perfect for a single location and extended solo scene undertaking such as this, grips us from Anthony’s attention-garnering, opening quip to Mike. This is: “I guess you didn’t think it would go down like this, huh? Keep walking”. From herein, the interest and intensity amplifies continuously with each respective frame. Such gives way to a climax that is foreseeable. Yet, it is so well-engineered and resonant that it is easy to look past such comparatively miniscule details. All of this is propelled by authentic, well-etched leads. Our protagonist, Anthony, and antagonist, Mike, are amended great dimension and depth. Consequently, they avoid becoming mere genre archetypes at every turn. Based on the staggering strength of the depictions of these personas, we find ourselves readily seeing and understanding both the measures and reasoning behind the pair we follow on- screen. Such is as much a testament to Salvi’s impactful authorship as it is the same said performances themselves.
The result of this official selection of The Massachusetts Independent Film Festival, and Hatt On Productions presentation, is pure magic. It is a violent tale. Yet, it doesn’t rely solely on its inherent ferocity to weave or sell the fiction. Such is as refreshing as it is rare. Moreover, the exercise organically and competently builds the intrigue of its story. This can also be stated when considering the sly unfurling of events as well as brisk runtime of the endeavor. Such is elucidated without ever overreaching in its successful attempts to convey its message. This is also accurate when pondering its ability to fluently generate intensity. Additionally, the vehicle is slick. This is without ever being so glossy in appearance as to betray the believability it calmly evokes. It is just as smart in its execution. There is a plethora of intelligent creative choices and obvious skill for making fiction demonstrated here. Because of this, “Hand In Hand” serves as an absolute bulls-eye. McHatton, Salvi and crew have constructed an awe-inspiring triumph of simultaneous entertainment value and moving picture dexterity. It is one that fellow bystanders are guaranteed to admire and reflect upon long after their sit down with the arrangement is complete.